I’m still tinkering with my website since it’s pretty new. And, yes, I mean tinkering. Like an old man in a shop, bent over tools he doesn’t actually use.
Since returning from the writer’s conference, I’ve spent a bazillion brain cells adding to my ‘About’ page because, well, this is What You Do. It’s scary since I love a certain amount of anonymity. On the other hand, people want to know things about other people. I want to know things about you, though we may never meet.
Since the ‘About’ page is static on my website (doesn’t go to anyone’s inbox), I thought I’d add a link here in case you want to check it out. Take this as permission to snoop in my bathroom cabinet.
The Wangs aren’t the kind of people you wave to as you pass their house on the way to yours. Not because you don’t want to wave, but because they turn their backs when you try to make eye contact. They put orange cones at the edge of their driveway, and after they mow their lawn, they use salad tongs to pick up clumps of grass.
Tonight there are so many police cars and ambulances in front of their perfect yard that we collect on the front porch and squint. The neighbors across the street do the same thing, and we end up congregating.
Mr. Wang was a Taiwanese refugee a long time ago, someone says, but I think they mean immigrant. He got a job with a big factory in town and did pretty well. He and his wife don’t talk to people in the neighborhood except to the lady across the street. They have brilliant kids who didn’t know to roller skate when they were little. They’re grown up and living in California now. One became a doctor, maybe? Anyway, they’re smart.
Mr. Wang had, has? cancer. He’s small to begin with, but now he weighs 98 lbs, a lady says. He still worked in his yard up until two days ago, though he started sitting on a low seat under the Japanese maple a lot and wore a surgical mask.
My husband walks down to the Wangs’ house, though neither one of us has ever so much as said hello to them.
EMT’s carry a gurney out of the house, a tiny shrouded body on it. We can’t tell if the face is covered from where we stand. Someone says he’s gone already. But then the ambulance turns on its siren, and we figure they wouldn’t do that if he was already dead, would they?
When my husband returns, he tells us Mr. Wang had died, that the emergency people broke his sternum trying to get him to breathe again. His chest caves in at a steep angle, but he’s alive, for now.
I helped Mrs. Wang into the ambulance, he says.
This morning, one of the neighbors from last night’s huddle tells us Mr. Wang died again at midnight, but not before he became responsive in the hospital. That’s what he said: became responsive. We imagine him grasping his wife’s hand, telling her it’s okay, to let him go. But we don’t know anything for sure. Or at all, really.
Mrs. Wang is out in her yard exactly five and a half hours after her husband died. It’s trash day, and she moves her cans to the end of the street so the trash man can do his work without walking on her driveway. Then she gets out the salad tongs and cleans up her grass.
The novel I’m working on involves a school shooting. As I wrap up the book, I find myself gloomy and depressed, and it takes me forever to figure out why.
Then I do.
I’ve immersed myself in a dark fictional world every day for the last several months. What’s worse, it isn’t a dystopian, that’ll-never-really-happen world. It’s a turn-on-the-news-for-the-latest-incident kind of place.
I educate my kids at home–partly because we lived abroad for a chunk of their childhoods, and it was easier to take school with us where ever we happened to be–but I have lots of friends with kids in public schools. My husband teaches in one. So do both of my parents.
School shootings affect me, too.
One of the big themes in my book is whether nature or nurture has a bigger impact on who people become. Can we pass on certain violent traits to our kids? How can we know if we’re parenting a potential monster? Are there signs? Whose fault is it when a teenager does something horrific?
I’m a Christian. While I don’t write stereotypical Christian fiction, God figures in my fictional worlds because he looms large in MY world. When I open my Bible, I read the story of a broken, pain-soaked world. I see people hurting each other, shaking their fists at the sky while justifying their actions.
I believe everyone, including myself, is fundamentally messed up and in need of rescuing.
Still, what makes some people kill and not others?
These are some of the questions I’m asking. No wonder I’ve been feeling heavy.